Where should we visit or stay in Eastern Europe?
February 24, 2008 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Where should we visit in Eastern Europe?

Me and three or four freinds are planning to have a bit of an interrail this summer and unlike last time, we've opted for more of an eastern European slant. So far it's looking like this:

France - Italy - Greece - Bulgaria - Romania - Hungary - Poland - Germany

We're hoping to see a bit more of the countryside and will be camping a fair bit as well as using hostels. However, we know nothing of Eastern Europe save for a Michael Palin documentary.

Does anyone whos been around that area have any suggestions of places to go, things to see and stuff to do? We're on a fairly low budget, but we could save cash for certain things if it's worth it.

Sorry for the vague post but we're ignorant and in the early planning stages. Thanks!
posted by D J Robertstein to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When are you going? Summer or off-season?

Are the countries you plan on visiting in that order? If so, are you taking the ferry from Italy to Greece? If not, consider looping around northern Italy via Trieste, and then on into Slovenia (Bled is quite nice -- visit the Vintgar gorge), then head down the Dalmation coastline of Croatia (Split, Dubrovnik, et. al) and into Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, then Greece.
posted by nitsuj at 11:31 AM on February 24, 2008

Wow - DON'T skip Prague (Czech Republic). It's the jewel of Eastern Europe, IMHO. I would also definitely suggest the beaches of Croatia and Zagreb if you're already doing Italy and Greece.

Going to Bulgaria this summer, so I can't comment on that yet.

I was underwhelmed by Hungary. I've heard great things about Poland, though.

Good call on going East. I've backpacked Europe 3 times, each time going further east. This summer we're doing Turkey, Bulgaria, and the Ukraine. The further East we go, the cheaper it gets and the more fun we have!
posted by mamessner at 11:33 AM on February 24, 2008

Sorry, I just re-read and saw you said Summer.

I'd probably avoid Bled, then, because it'll be extremely crowded and the prices higher than off-season. I was there in November, and the town was relatively void of large amounts of tourists and quite nice really. The Vintgar Gorge, however, is quite spectacular.

Check out Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.

Hungary, Poland, and Germany are pretty "Western" in terms of tourism. Germany is quite expensive, while Hungary is a bit less. Poland is cheap. If you're in the area, don't forget about Slovakia and Czech Republic!
posted by nitsuj at 11:35 AM on February 24, 2008

Ditto nitsuj - Skip Germany and Hungary if you're on a budget, but don't miss the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, etc.
posted by mamessner at 11:38 AM on February 24, 2008

seconding croatia - the islands from split are great.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:51 AM on February 24, 2008

You will not regret going a little out of your way to see Istanbul.
posted by Brian James at 11:57 AM on February 24, 2008

In Poland, make sure you see Gdansk (and the nearby seaside resort of Sopot, which is lots of fun), Warsaw and Krakow.

Oh, Malbork Castle, former home of the Teutonic knights is an amazing sight as well.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 12:02 PM on February 24, 2008

We were in Bled, Slovenia last July, and it was great. It may be more expensive than the off-season, but it was still considerably less expensive than Austria, which was the other place we went to.
posted by leahwrenn at 12:13 PM on February 24, 2008

Croatia - Islands off Split are a must. Visit Hvar.
posted by jek at 12:54 PM on February 24, 2008

I would second Prague; it's just too precious to miss. Italy and Germany are definitely more expensive then most places but Italy definitely deserves it.

I'm not a big fan of Hungary, it's good but not terribly exciting. Also if you ever make it to beaches, just make sure you are OK with nudity; that goes pretty much for most of the Europe but still.
posted by the_dude at 1:05 PM on February 24, 2008

+1 on Prague, though it'll be heinously busy in the summer. We went to the Czech Republic in winter to watch the World Juniors Hockey Championships. Aside from lots of great hockey in old-school Soviet arenas, two highlights outside of Prague were the Sedlec ossuary and St. Barbara Church in Kutna Hora. The former is world famous and totally creepy, while the latter is an exceptional cathedral, sparse and beautiful.

I enjoyed Budapest a lot. Make sure you check out one of the historic bath houses. I wrote a blog post explaining how to negotiate the most popular in Budapest, the Gellert Baths.

Don't miss the Greek isles. If you can afford it, do not take a Greek ferry--fly instead. The grief is not worth the savings.
posted by dbarefoot at 2:50 PM on February 24, 2008


Szoborpark. Communist statuaries were removed from the city of Budapest and placed in a park out in the suburbs. You have to take the city tram to a bus terminal, then the bus to Diosderd. The pictures on the site are great, but the statues are about 1000 times more massive than any photograph shows.

The Gellert Bathhouse. When I was there in 2002, it was like 12.00 for a full day in the thermal baths, massage, swimming pool, etc. When you enter, make sure you get in the correct line. One line is for tourists and the other is for people who are there with a doctor's recommendation.

Nyguati City Center. When I took the train in, I was tired and just wanted to flake out at a movie and was directed to a theatre here. I got off the subway and was in the most massive shopping mall I've ever been to.
posted by pieoverdone at 3:41 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm also going on this trip

We were looking at starting roughly in Nice, then Italy (Lake Garda), down the East of Italy to Bari - ferry across - to Patras in Greece. Then up to Thessoloniki (sp) via train. Then Sofia - on to Romania (possibly Sighişoara), and then up through Slovakia, Poland, and back to The Netherlands through Northern Germany.

Thanks for all the comments. Any more would be thoroughly appreciated.

Aiming on doing it all on a months Interrail ticket. Having just finished degrees (bar one of us) we aim to make it as thoroughly enjoyable as possible, as you would expect

Again, thanks for all the help
posted by bobbyone at 4:25 PM on February 24, 2008

I live in Budapest, and write for travel guide books... East Europe is no longer "cheap" but by staying in private rooms and avoiding downtown restaurants you can live a long time. Even in Prague or Budapest (both of which are pricey tourist traps downtown with vibrant fun life out of the downtowns.)

Going as a group? Assign everybody a language to learn, now. Yes, now. Learn it badly - three tenses, mark your subjects or objects, you have a few months to get prepped. You will need it and it will make everything more enjoyable. Sure, most 19 year olds can speak English, but there will be times when a smattering of Bulgarian or Romanian will be worth gold. Don't expect fluency - primitive but functional will do you well. I mean this - if you can speak the local language even a tiny functional bit your groups' enjoyment and efficiency factor goes up exponentially.

Bulgaria is still affordable, but the main Black Sea beach areas are tourist traps. Rural Romania has a lot of affordable agrotourism happening. Hungary? I live here... they have a big rock festival in the summer, but if you are not really into Hungarian history or culture, it kinda sucks. Rural Slovakia ... beautiful mountains, pristine rivers... if you look you can find cheaper accomodations in Pensions, food is cheap and starchy (and porky!) and the whole country is an aging hippie wearing camos and listening to 70s rock and C&W. Good trout fishing too.

Bobbyone: That itinerary kind of sounds like Globe Trekker's "Tourist Traps and Industrial Zones of the East Bloc" tour. Sofia? The worst of Bulgaria. Patras? Sighisoara - tourist trap #1 in Tranylvania. (A town in which the police beat any Gypsy who shows their face in the touristy downtown. It is a cute town, though.) Mind you - Thessaloniki is a great place... if you speak Greek. (See chapter one...)
posted by zaelic at 5:49 PM on February 24, 2008

I lived in Bulgaria for a couple years in 2001-2003 and recently went back for a couple weeks last summer. Sofia is a wonderful city if you're interested in a richly authentic look at a Eastern Bloc country. Cost of living (visiting, in your case) is incredibly cheap, and there are a couple wonderful spots in the city for shopping (in particular for some incredible Soviet & Lenin-era goods). I'd recommend the Mostel Hostel in Sofia. It's really affordable, centrally located, very clean, and the people are incredibly nice and honest. PM me if you have any Bulgaria questions.
I'd also recommend Prague. You don't get that Communist torn Eastern Bloc feel, but it's easily the most gorgeous place in Eastern Europe.
Istanbul is the same way - there's just too much history attached to the place to miss it.
posted by Detuned Radio at 6:04 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry... I should qualify some of what I just said above...

Bulgaria: Instead of Big grey Sofia try Plovdiv (culture, cafes...) and for the Black Sea take cheap private rooms in Varna which offers both Big City life AND beach resort - cheaper than the other beach resorts, better cafes, lots of people to meet, short bus rides to other beachy places and culture centers like Dobrich...

Romania: Bucharest is like vacationing in an overpriced kitty liter box in the summer. Best towns: Cluj, Timisoara, Oradea, or rural agrotourism regions like Maramures or Transylvania. As always, University towns have the best cultural/night life options. Craiova: NO!

Poland: Avoid Warsaw. Poland has several large cities, very distinct. Poznan, Cracow, Wroclaw. Lodz... not so fun.

Slovenia: worth some time to explore. Six climate zones, stunning scenery, people who take outdoor fun seriously, and a combination of Serbian drinking habits with Northern Italian cuisine.

Dalmatia: danger zone in the summer tourist season, but heading out to outer islands from Split is good and afffordable (smaller towns with private accomodations on Islands like Vis, Brac, etc.)

Greece: in the summer? Well, definately not Athens.

Email if you need more infos.
posted by zaelic at 6:08 PM on February 24, 2008

For my tastes, that's too many countries for one month. One country per week is a decent rule of thumb.

As stated upthread, France, Italy and Germany will drain your funds if they're limited.

Camping is a great way to save money, but campsites are rarely near train stations. If you're planning on having lots of one day visits to places, you're going to spend an hour or two on average per day figuring out where the campsite is and how to get there from the station.

Although I'd agree that the Czech Republic and Slovakia are worth considering, I'd have no problems with skipping Prague. It's crowded and budget flights from the UK have turned it into a magnet for some pretty unpleasant types. There are many other beautiful cities where you'll actually be able to stop in the street to gaze up at a roof carving without being trampled by tourists.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:51 PM on February 24, 2008

Don't forget to visit Republic of Macedonia. It will suit your tight budget and you'll definitely get more than you pay for. In particular, make sure to visit Ohrid (please forgive the non-English version of the site), which is an antic city with a deeply rich history. I am sure it will interest you.

Here's a website for Macedonia that you might consider looking into. It's made by outsiders from Poland I believe.
posted by GrooveStix at 8:23 PM on February 24, 2008

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